“I pull her to the ground and roll on top of her to cover her, shield her. Quiet, I say again, my face is wet, sweat or tears, I feel calm and floating, as if I’m no longer in my body; close to my eyes there’s a leaf, red, turned early, I can see every bright vein. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” (Atwood 75)
The world of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a soulless, authoritarian, and apocalyptic setting for the novel, where women are marginalized and transformed by society into reproductive tools in order to combat infertility. However, the novel still highlights moments where humanity is still able to rise above all of the negative situations and degradation of the world.
In this particular passage of the novel, the handmaid, Offred, is in a dream where she and her child are escaping a pursuer through a forest. As the pursuer gains ground, Offred eventually resorts to protecting her child from danger. The act of “pull[ing] her to the ground” (75) resembles a fall of humans from the original honor and nobility associated with being human. The subsequent actions of “roll[ing] on top of her to cover her, shield her” (75) represent the tendencies for humans to hide from their failures and seek protection, instead of facing them directly. In addition, Offred’s silencing of the child depicts the loss of voice of women, who are stripped away from their identity and marginalized in their society. We as readers are also not able to tell if Offred’s face is wet from “sweat or tears,” (75) but are able to conclude that the world Offred lives in is one of distress, which is pictured by sweat, and sadness, which is depicted by tears.
Yet despite these dire circumstances, Offred feels “calm and floating, as if [she’s] no longer in [her] body.” (75) The reader is taken aback and shocked, because Offred manages to find tranquility in such a stressful situation. Since she also feels “floating,” (75) it can be argued that she feels transcendent above her situation due to this out-of-body experience. This lends support to genuine human virtues and relationships that are able to rise above the rest of the world as society continues to take a downward turn.
In this novel, there is also a substantial amount of plant imagery. In this case, the leaf is a metaphor for Offred’s relationship with her child, which is one of the few hallmarks of humanity left in the degraded society. The fact that the leaf is “turned early” (75) has a dubious meaning, as it can either signify vitality or forewarn death since it prematurely changed colors. However in this case, Offred notices the “bright vein[s]” (75) and remarks that “it’s the most beautiful thing [she’s] ever seen.” (75) The veins lend further support to the leaf as a picture of Offred’s relationship with her child, as it is both alive and beautiful in midst of so much chaos and so many inhumane acts. Even if the leaf is dying prematurely, the beauty of its life is still made known.
This passage has a very calming tone, in contrast to the preceding paragraph, which is marked by diction and syntax that create a violent, nervous, and chaotic tone. Thus, we see a contrast between Offred’s distress in her situation, and then suddenly having an out-of-body experience that brings tranquility and alertness to her. Offred’s out-of-body experience also reveal that she no longer feels confined to her body, which is defined and used by the society in the novel. Through all of this, the passage is able to show that Offred may be the last stronghold of human virtues and integrity in her world, as she bears the memories of the previous society that fostered such loving relationships and uprightness.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. 1st ed. New York: Anchor, 1986. Print.
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